CD Projekt, the developer behind The Witcher series, is at E3 giving demonstrations of the Xbox 360 version of its popular and critically acclaimed game, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. Their presentation was aimed squarely at people like me who are primarily console gamers that havenít played The Witcher 2 or arenít familiar with the franchise at all. They spent the first part of the demonstration catching us up to speed with the basic tenets of The Witcher 2. It is a very mature, single player action-RPG with a strong tactical focus and non-linear story. Much of that non-linearity comes from all of the various morally ambiguous decisions you have to make over the course of the game. Those decisions have a huge impact on the course of the story, eventually leading to 16 different possible endings.
It was also pointed out to us that this version of The Witcher 2 is more than a simple port, as CD Projekt is labeling this an "adaptation" made specifically for the Xbox 360. This means that CD Projekt is going out of its way to improve and enhance the game for Xbox 360 rather than trying to force a PC game onto a platform it was never meant for. The game's disc will ship with all of the patches, enhancements, balance tweaks, and free DLC from the PC version released up until the 360 versions launch. However, CD Projekt just started this project since the build we saw was only pre-alpha. Although it is still early, the game performed relatively well and looked fantastic. The funny thing is, during the presentation the team seemed almost apologetic about how it looked on the Xbox 360. They went out of their way to point out that great art design matters more than higher resolution textures and that even people who played the PC version of the game on the lowest settings still thought that the game looked nice. From where I was sitting, this was one of the best looking Xbox 360 games that I have seen, and it's still only pre-alpha. I guess it goes to show you that a different perspective, me being primarily a console gamer, makes all the difference.
After finishing their introduction of The Witcher 2, CD Projekt moved on to showing us a live gameplay demo. The demo was of a prison break scene early in the game. The presentation switched between two developers playing the same sequence in very different ways to show off the non-linear aspects of gameplay and story design. The first developer decided to use stealth to sneak his way out of the dungeon while the second developer killed everything in sight. I won't go into too much depth about this sequence since it has already been released, but I will say that I was very impressed with what I saw. The stealth sections required Geralt, the main character, to use a force push-like magic attack to blow out torches so he could hide in the shadows and wait for his opportunity to either sneak past guards or knock them out. The action section was just as exciting. I enjoyed watching Geralt dive to avoid attacks, block incoming strikes, and throw down traps to give himself some breathing room when he was surrounded by enemies. The dueling demos also highlighted how much of an impact your choices during dialog sequences could have on the story. For example, if you kill a certain character early in the story, you escape the castle undetected with the help of a new ally. However, if you spared that character earlier, the prison break sequence ends with the castle in flames crumbling around you. This game is all about your unique experience in both story and gameplay.
The whole point of this presentation was to introduce neophytes like me to this great looking game and to reassure all of the fans of the PC version that this is indeed the entire Witcher 2 experience, only adapted for consoles. In terms of performance, the game ran fairly smoothly, even at this early stage. CD Projekt also hopes to implement a lot of the features of their REDengine, so you can expect smooth gameplay without any of the frequent loading gamers are used to in open world games like these. The game will be out on the Xbox 360 by the end of 2011. As someone who prefers to game on a console and doesnít have a PC that can run this game, I'm very excited for its release.
Note: The screens in this impression are indeed from the Xbox 360 version of The Witcher 2.